Side One: Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus
- This outstanding early ABC Stereo pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides
- Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum of the guitars, along with the kind of richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern remasterings.
- Becker and Fagen spared no effort in the recording of this album - the mix is PERFECTION
- A Top 100 Album and our pick for The Best Sounding Steely Dan Recording of Them All
- 5 stars: "Steely Dan made more accomplished albums than Pretzel Logic, but they never made a better one."
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This early ABC Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to "see" the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It's what vintage all analog recordings are known for -- this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
This is one knockout recording. After having done shootouts for every Steely Dan title, I can say that in their canon Pretzel Logic has no equal, not for sound quality anyway.
Which is really saying something, since Becker and Fagen are known to be audiophiles themselves and real sticklers for sound. No effort in the recording of this album was spared, that I can tell you without fear of contradiction. They sweated the details on this one.
What the Best Sides of Pretzel Logic Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1974
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Side one is very hard to find with good sound and quiet vinyl. The sonic and play grades are more often than not higher on side two. Why that is we have no idea.
Choruses Are Key
The richness, sweetness and freedom from artificiality are most apparent on Pretzel Logic where you most always hear it on a pop record: in the biggest, loudest, densest, most climactic choruses.
We set the playback volume so that the loudest parts of the record are as huge and powerful as they can possibly grow to be without crossing the line into distortion or congestion. On some records, Dark Side of the Moon comes instantly to mind, the guitar solos on Money are the loudest thing on the record. On Breakfast in America the sax toward the end of The Logical Song is the biggest and loudest sound on the record, louder even than Roger Hodgson's near-hysterical multi-tracked screaming "Who I am" about three quarters of the way through. Those, however, are clearly exceptions to the rule. Most of the time it's the final chorus that gets bigger and louder than anything else.
A pop song is usually structured so as to build more and more strength as it works its way through its verses and choruses, past the bridge, coming back around to make one final push, releasing all its energy in the final chorus, the climax of the song. On a good recording -- one with real dynamics -- that part should be very loud and very powerful.
Testing Pretzel Logic
It's almost always the toughest test for a pop record, and it's the main reason we play our records loud. The copies that hold up through the final choruses of their album's largest scaled productions (Rikki Don't Lose That Number on side one, Pretzel Logic pm side two) are the ones that provide the biggest thrills and the most emotionally powerful musical experiences one can have. Our Top 100 is full of the kinds of records that reward listening at loud levels.
We live for that sound here at Better Records. It's precisely what vintage analog pressings do well. They do it so much better than any other medium that there is really no comparison, and, as of this writing, certainly no substitute. If you're on this site you already know that.
What We're Listening For on Pretzel Logic
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren't "back there" somewhere, lost in the mix. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass -- which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Average Is Average
You would never know how well recorded this album is by playing the average pressing. Most copies we played in our shootout were dull, compressed and dead as the proverbial doornail.
And how can you possibly be expected to appreciate the music when you can't hear it right? The reason we audiophiles go through the trouble of owning and tweaking our temperamental equipment is we know how hard it is to appreciate good music when it sounds bad. Bad sound is a barrier to understanding and enjoyment, maybe not to the general public, but it sure is to us audiophiles. The typical copy of this album is veiled, compressed and murky. Who enjoys that kind of sound?
Now does everybody need to spend the big bucks we charge for Pretzel Logic? Of course not. It makes no sense to spend that kind of dough unless you LOVE the music. You don't pay that kind of money for a record that just gets filed away on a shelf.
But for a record that sounds this good and has music this powerful and involving, it's clearly worth the hundreds of dollars you might spend because you're going to play this record -- and enjoy the hell out of it -- for the rest of your life. That's a lot of plays and a lot of enjoyment.
Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
The Tracklist tab above will take you to a select song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What to Listen For advice. Other records with track breakdowns can be found here.
- Rikki Don't Lose That Number
- Night By Night
- Any Major Dude Will Tell You
- East St. Louis Toodle-Oo
By far the biggest hit on this album and one of the biggest for the band, it's also one of the clearest indicators of Hot Stamper Sound. The Horace Silver inspired intro is at its best when you can easily hear the acoustic guitar in the left channel doubling the piano. On most copies it's blurry and dull, which causes it to get lost in the mix. Transparent copies pull it out in the open where it belongs.
That's the first test, but the real test for this track is how well the (surprisingly) DYNAMIC chorus is handled. On a properly mastered and pressed copy, Fagen's singing in the chorus is powerful and very present. He is RIGHT THERE, full of energy and drive, challenging the rest of the band to keep up with him. And they do! The best copies demonstrate what a lively group of musicians he has backing him on this track. (If you know anything about Steely Dan's recordings, you know the guys in these sessions are the best of the best.)
Check out the big floor tom that gets smacked right before the first chorus. On the best copies the whomp factor is off the scale.
Shocking as it may seem, most copies of this album are DOA on this track. They're severely compressed -- they never come to life, they never get LOUD. The result? Fagen and the band sound bored. And that feeling is contagious.
Of course most audiophiles have no idea how dynamic this recording is because they've never heard a good pressing. Only a handful of the copies we played had truly powerful dynamics. These are Pretzel Logics with far more life than I ever dreamed possible. Hey, who knew?
(As an aside, back in 1976 I had my fifty favorite albums professionally cleaned on a KMAL record cleaning machine at the stereo store I worked at. They would give you a custom record sleeve along with the cleaning, and sure enough I found my original Pretzel Logic with its KMAL sleeve. My copy was pretty good but no Hot Stamper.)
So, yes, it really did take us thirty years to find the best copy!
A real rocker. When you have a smooth, tonally balanced copy with plenty of punchy bass this track just cries out to be turned all the way up and then some. The guitars are very lively here, peeling off the kind of major chords that you don't often hear on a Steely Dan album. If you're lucky enough to have a copy with real dynamics, during the guitar solo you'll really feel the power.
After this album Becker and Fagen stopped writing songs like this one, concentrating on the jazzier side of their music with the follow-up album. (Which is, in my opinion, their masterpiece: Katy Lied.)
The acoustic guitars on the best copies are amazingly sweet and delicate at the beginning of this track, with all their lovely harmonics subtly resolved. The ambience from each channel is clearly audible in the middle of the soundfield.
Similar to "Rikki...", Fagen's multi-tracked vocals in the chorus should ideally stay sweet yet powerful. Lesser copies become distorted in the choruses, resulting in harsh and unpleasant sound just when the music is trying to get going.
The acrobatic bass line is a great test for proper low end. You should be able to follow every note. On the best copies you will notice that the keyboards are punchy and dynamic; they want to jump out of the mix, pounding out the kind of rich solid chords that do so much to propel the song. More than anything else, having real weight in the lower mids and bottom, where the bass and keyboards are, makes the song come to life. Any leanness or thinness wreaks havoc with this track.
With its piano based arrangement, this track is a kind of throwback to the first album. It really comes to life on the best pressings, and makes the case for how much better recorded Pretzel Logic is compared to Can't Buy a Thril. No track on their first album sounds like this! It's as big and bold as anything the boys ever did. Musically it may be a bit straightforward, especially in relation to what is to come, but sonically it's everything you want in a big production pop recording. Demonstration Quality all the way.
- Parker's Band
- Through With Buzz
- Pretzel Logic
- With a Gun
- Charlie Freak
- Monkey in Your Soul
This energetic tribute to Charlie Parker will immediately tip you off as to whether or not your side two experience will be an enjoyable one. (If you end up with a Hot Stamper copy from us we absolutely guarantee it will be!)
The first thing you should notice is how BIG and WIDE the sound is, as well as how full-bodied.
Next check out the energy of the band. This is the most uptempo track on the entire album and the best copies have LIFE and ENERGY to spare. The boys in the band are up for it; they're channeling Charlie Parker and doing their best to bring his music back to life.
How about the heavy duty delay on Fagen's voice. When have you ever heard him sound like that? (They use it again on the last track.) The standard overly-compressed, grainy, dull version of this record causes his processed vocals to sound artificial and distorted, whereas they sound just right and sit perfectly in the mix on the good copies. (No doubt his vocals sounded great when they were mixing the album, but not many record lovers ever got to hear them that way. ABC's quality control department made sure of that.)
But there's more: twin drummers! On the best copies it's OBVIOUS there is a drummer wailing away in each channel. Until I had played one of the better copies I never even noticed it. (Of course, once you've heard it, it's easy to hear both drummers on any copy.) But they really strut their stuff and drum up a storm on the best pressings.
But by far the TOUGHEST test on side one is the saxophone battle at the end of the song. If you've got a badly mastered or pressed copy it is sure to be an unmitigated sonic disaster: aggressive, hard, shrill, sour, irritating; pick whatever adjective makes you wince, because wincing is exactly what you will find yourself doing with the typical ABC or MCA LP on your table.
You need a copy with an extended top end to allow the harmonics of the saxes to be reproduced correctly. This is the only way they will sound balanced. Otherwise you will be left with a honky upper midrange aggressiveness that will no doubt be doing its level best to tear your head off. If the pressing in question has any added grit or grain, and they almost all do, you are in for even more trouble. Only the sweetest, most tonally correct, grain-free, full-bandwidth copies will let you dig those battling bopish saxes.
Ah, and it's so good when they do.
This quirky tune is a great test for transparency. Thick and opaque copies just make this song sound dumb. A big problem is the strings. On even the best copies they lack texture and bite. After playing Eleanor Rigby during an earlier shootout on the same day as this album, the strings here were a big disappointment. On good copies they are passable. On bad copies they are smeared, shrill and aggressive.
The title track here is one of my all time favorites. I've often used it in the past to demonstrate my system. The sound is wall to wall and big as life on the best copies. I'm a big speaker guy and this song is custom made to show what a powerful full range big speaker system can do. (Keep in mind that the individual drivers must be large as well, 12" and up, to allow the voices to sound like they are full-size human beings, not shrunken toy people. I positively hate that sound. See the listing on the left, Speakers that Don't Move Air and Shrunken Images, for more on that subject.)
The multi-tracked vocals in the choruses present one of the biggest challenges for any copy of the LP. The choruses need to get very loud, as loud as anything on the side, with plenty of presence, yet not go over the edge into aggressiveness or harshness the way they do on so many copies. If the midrange is smooth and full-bodied, and the top end is extended and sweet, it makes all the difference; the sound will tend to be balanced and free from hi-fi-ishness.
Any grit or grain will show itself here, big time, especially if you like to play this album as loud as I do, which is LOUD. The power of all those voices singing at the top of their lungs should give you chills.
At moderate levels chills are hard to come by. Most audiophiles play their music much too quietly. Sometimes this is due to obvious system limitations, but often it seems to be merely a preference.
I want to have a powerful emotional experience when playing an album like this. I want to be THRILLED. That just isn't possible at the kind of comfortable listening levels most audiophiles prefer. This music heard live would be very loud, because rock concerts are very loud. Why wouldn't we want to reproduce the sound of the live event? (Within reason of course. One must make adjustments for the size of one's listening room. But you get the point. Turn it up man!)
Another track that confirms this album's status as the Steely Dan Acoustic Guitar Album par excellence. Pure Tubey Magic from start to finish.
Love the sound of that bell tree, beautifully recorded. Another good test for high frequency extension. (Of course, by this track you should have no doubt about the highs on your pressing. Dullness caused by bad mastering or pressing problems hurts practically every track on this side, and for that matter the other side too.)
AMG 5 Star Review
Instead of relying on easy hooks, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen assembled their most complex and cynical set of songs to date. Dense with harmonics, countermelodies, and bop phrasing, Pretzel Logic is vibrant with unpredictable musical juxtapositions and snide, but very funny, wordplay.
Listen to how the album's hit single, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," opens with a syncopated piano line that evolves into a graceful pop melody, or how the title track winds from a blues to a jazzy chorus — Becker and Fagen's craft has become seamless while remaining idiosyncratic and thrillingly accessible...
Steely Dan made more accomplished albums than Pretzel Logic, but they never made a better one.